Over the course of their almost decade-long journey, Media Whisper COO Brandon Brown and owner Michael Henry have made a lot of friends - and fans. Their story begins with Henry who, searching for direction after graduating from high school and losing his father, started working with Third String Productions to promote shows in exchange for free tickets to independent concerts.
For four years, his job was to connect with Dallas-area music fans on MySpace predecessor Xanga and give them more information about the bands the company had booked, replacing the paper fliers that the company had been using.
“It was just trying to connect with kids and bring them back to our page, which ironically, here almost fifteen years later, it’s still what we’re doing: Trying to practically reach out to people and get them to come to our profiles,” Henry said.
Later, he led the company to MySpace and, partnering with a friend who had developed an early MySpace friend-adding bot, ballooned its following to more than 40,000 friends - free exposure for a company putting on what had started out as independent concerts.
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“That was kind of the wild, wild west. There was really no rules. MySpace wasn’t doing much to crack down on spam and we eventually developed a commenter bot and we were dropping comments on kids’ profiles about the upcoming concerts,” Henry said.
As popularity grew, so did the crowds. Dallas events started attracting almost a thousand kids per stage, and snagged the attention of booking agents and high profile agencies in New York and L.A., as well as bigger bands.
Among those who reached out to Henry in those early days was House of Blues Dallas; when he had completed a redesign of the venue’s MySpace page, the talk turned to strategy. Who would maintain the profile?
“They kind of scratched their head and didn’t have an answer, so I said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll run your MySpace page for you for three months, and let’s talk in three months about what we want to do after that,’” he said.
It was Media Whisper’s first contract and soon five more House of Blues locations across the U.S. had been added to the small company’s clientele.
When L.A.-based LiveNation called to hire Media Whisper to run MySpace, Twitter and Facebook for six more venues, Henry realized that the team would have to grow to meet the challenge.
“It sounded like beyond what I was capable of doing. Again, college dropout, just trying to make an income. I was young, I got married at age 21 - I was just trying to keep the lights on. I know it was a big opportunity, I just felt very overwhelmed,” he said.
So, he turned to Brown - a friend he had met through the music scene who was working for SouthWest Airlines at the time and had helped out before, reviewing contracts to make sure Henry avoided lawsuits and audits.
Brown supported Henry’s vision and encouraged him to take on the challenge, though it felt overwhelming.
“At one point, I was like, ‘You have to do this. Because you’re not going to just be able to keep doing what you’re doing right now. They’re asking for a proposal that would either turn what you’re doing into a national thing or replace you with someone who can do that,’” Brown said.
When LiveNation signed the contract, Brown put in his two week’s notice, marking the beginning of Media Whisper in its current state. By the end of 2010, the team was working with 21 venues out of Brown’s apartment in Dallas, listening to dubstep and grabbing free coffee from the apartment complex.
In 2012, they made the move to Nashville with Brandon’s band, in which Michael’s wife is the singer, and expanded their team to 19 people with account managers in Dallas, LA, Saint Louis, D.C. In addition to working with 50 venues for LiveNation, they have taken on other clients as well, including bars, casinos, hospitality venues and festivals.
“We love working with festivals, but it’s different than with a venue. The festival cycle is six months on, six months off. But still, the strategy behind keeping that excitement alive in the off-season is an interesting challenge,” Brown said. “You have to have a strategy around it; you have to have someone thinking about social even when you’re not announcing the lineup for another two or three months.”
In total, their team creates over 150,000 posts per year, with each community manager handling between two and four venues, which they act on behalf of every day.
“It’s like a divide and conquer. Everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing and if strategy shifts, we roll them out quick, we keep up. And they know how to keep up,” Henry said.
Generally, it is more financially feasible for clients to outsource their promotion to a company like Media Whisper than it is to hire a salaried in-house promoter. To maintain a sense of familiarity, Brown and Henry charge their account managers with becoming integrated into clients’ team, even if they’re physically distant from the client.
“They are charged with knowing what that community responds well to. What the interests of that area are. What teams are excited about. What’s the lifestyle of that city,” Brown said.
That being said, it is important that companies budget for some sort of social media management, Brown said. Since traditional media no longer carries as much weight as social media promotion and more social sites are implementing algorithms that make organic reach more difficult, having a strategy in place is more crucial than ever.
“It was a hard pivot in strategy, where suddenly you had to understand that social was being governed and steered by this algorithm. It wasn’t just a free-for-all anymore. Since then, the focus on advertising and the importance of a budget has grown as Facebook went public and they’ve had to make money for their shareholders. Platforms are beginning to monetize, whereas before, we were leveraging these platforms for free,” Brown said.
That promotion also has to keep people engaged beyond the initial PR blast at the opening of a venue, Henry adds. Claiming social URLs, making the plan and budget, and promoting a lineup have to be a part of a fluid journey from groundbreaking to “who’s playing?”
“That wave only gets you so far,” Henry said. The overall goal of promotion for Media Whisper: To help people to relive a great time or feel like they missed out, keeping the brand in consideration at all steps of the process. “People getting out of their houses, having experiences, buying tickets, getting out to events. That’s our bread and butter,” Brown said.